Friends, associates mourn death of LeRoy businessman

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 25, 2003

LEROY -- Friends, business acquaintances and others are mourning the loss of Robert "Bob" Watts.

The LeRoy businessman died Sunday at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester.

Donald Olson, a former city official, remembers Watts' arrival in LeRoy in 1970.

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"There were three of us who went to visit with him about coming to LeRoy and starting a business here. I don't think a one of us ever regretted it in any way. He was a heckuva nice guy," Olson said.

Roger Fister, the former LeRoy postmaster and city official, also remembered Watts' influence on LeRoy.

"We really liked him," Fister said. "The bowling alley, restaurant and then catering business brought people to LeRoy. His catering business became one of the best around and everybody always kidded him about being too generous, when he catered dinners for the LeRoy Commercial Club and other local events. We said we would eat him out of business."

When Watts purchased the former Martz Furniture property along Main Street after a fire, he told friends, "I'm too old to be doing this at this stage of my life," other business acquaintances recall.

But the new bowling alley, restaurant and bar soon became meccas for both in-towners and those from out of town who came to LeRoy for fine dining and fun.

It was the catering business that made Watts and his wife, Linda, the favorites throughout southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

Earlier this year, he began offering a Sunday brunch to give the after-worship crowd an alternative to stay at home in LeRoy to dine out.

Every July, Mr. Watts and his wife were regulars in the annual LeRoy SummerFest parade in a classic convertible and there wasn't

a Ducks Unlimited banquet that he couldn't resist serving.

The Watts family's reputation in fine dining and entertainment throughout the area is well-known.

Their father, Don (now deceased) was a popular trombonist in the big band swing music era, who also opened the Lansing Corners Supper Club.

A brother, Kermit, is himself a restaurateur and caterer at Watts Cookin' and the Austin Auto Truck Plaza along Interstate 90 in Austin. He remembers his older brother as a "people person."

"He was a guy who genuinely enjoyed people," Kermit Watts said. "He was a people person in every way. He loved the business, he loved his family, he enjoyed fishing and the outdoors -- particularly helping the Ducks Unlimited people in any way he could. Everything he did was about people and helping them."

Mention the Watts name and immediately fine dining comes to mind as well as milestones in restaurant history.

From the days in

the 1950s, when Bob Watts worked for his father, Don, at Lansing Corners Supper Club, to 1958, when the pair went on they own with Bob's Drive-In across East Oakland Avenue from the Austin Eagles Club to the Plaza Truck Stop (now Kermit Watts' business) and then the Startdust Restaurant, the Watts family name was synonymous with the restaurant business.

The venture into a drive-in in the late 1950s resulted in the debut of

broasted chicken.

Don Joseph, the senior chef in the Austin area, was 15 when Mr. Watts came to work at his father's Lansing Corners establishment.

Joseph and his wife, Diane, remained life-long friends of Mr. Watts and his wife.

"He was the kind of friend that everyone would like to have," Joseph said. "It didn't make any difference who you were, if he was your friend you had one for life."

Lee Bonorden can be reached at 434-2232 or by e-mail at